Senior swan songThey'll long (we hope) carry the dubious distinction of losing more games – a minimum of 26 – than any recruiting class in program history.
There have been no major upset wins (though Saturday could count) and in fact, no wins over a Top 25 foe (Utah is No. 14). Regardless of their flaws and foibles, the recruiting class of 2007's second head coach, Brian Kelly, will remember them fondly for their contributions to what he believes is a strong foundation going forward.
"I would say more than anything else, how they've matured. I think they've shown themselves to be really good teammates as this season has progressed," Kelly noted when asked to talk about the soon-to-be graduates, though at least three regular season games remain for the group.
"They want to lead the right way, they want to set the right example, they want to set the right tone, and that has probably been the single most gratifying thing for me as the head football coach – to see our seniors develop in the areas that I know will allow this program to continue to move forward and eventually be the winning program that we all want it to be."
The class's best players – Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen – bailed early. Those that remained behind were led for the bulk of this season by two unable to suit up for their final home games at the Stadium: tailback Armando Allen due to hip surgery, and nose guard Ian Williams due to a still-healing sprained knee.
A third, and perhaps the most polarizing of the group, caught the attention of his second collegiate head coach for all the right reasons…eventually.
"Maybe this isn't right to say, but I wasn't a big Brian Smith fan early on," Kelly admitted of the verbose linebacker. "I thought he (cared) maybe a little bit too much about what he could do instead of what the team could do.
"I told him today, if I had anything to do with making the decision on a fifth year – which I certainly don't, the faculty board makes that decision – I'd be the first one in line advocating for Brian Smith to come back for another year. I would not have said that early in the year."
As with classmates Kerry Neal, Robert Hughes, Duval Kamara, former walk-on and transfer Bobby Burger, Allen and Williams, Smith has exhausted his eligibility. Eight others, including starters Taylor Dever, walk-on transfer David Ruffer, Harrison Smith and Gary Gray, can apply for said 5th season for various reasons.
Kelly noted last week that he and the potential applicants have yet to discuss the 2011 season though Harrison Smith stated on Wednesday that he had every intention of returning for one more year next fall.
Emergency entry onlyHis classmate Tommy Rees has earned Saturday's start following a spring session apprenticeship under Dayne Crist and a strong performance in relief - and in vain - in the team's last outing.
Andrew Hendrix spent the bulk of the 2010 season on the scout team, preparing the first team defense for particular opponents' offenses. He's ascended to "active" status thanks to the season-ending injury suffered by the aforementioned Crist.
But the strong-armed frosh of whom his head coach has spoken so highly will not enter Saturday's contest vs. Utah under any circumstances.
Former walk-on Nate Montana is the team's official number two signal caller; current walk-on Brian Castello will be the team's No. 3 QB this week.
"I would say that right now I can't see a situation where Andrew would play in the game (vs. Utah)," Kelly noted Thursday following practice. "It would have to be (vs.) Army or USC.
"On the sideline he's going to have a different role on Saturday in terms of what we're doing. I think that's going to help him see some things. (To that end) we scripted out, ‘Here's what I want you looking for. You've got to identify this, this, this and this' – a lot of (similar) stuff we did with (Rees) after the Michigan game. They're actively doing things on the sideline: charting, showing some looks.
"That's where I see (improvement) happening this week for Andrew, and then maybe climbing into that third position for the last couple of weeks."
Should Hendrix take a snap vs. Army or USC, the first-year player would lose an entire season of eligibility (and thus not be a potential 5th-year applicant following the 2013 season).